El Hijo: A Wild West Tale PC Review

El Hijo excels at boiling down stealth's gratifying core mechanics into an enjoyable pick up and play, with a collection of relatively simple, but clever levels.

By LG18, Posted 09 Dec 2020

From the undisputed classic series Thief, to Splinter Cell, Hitman, Metal Gear Solid, and Dishonoured; the industry has produced many unique and interesting stealth titles with ever deepening and creative mechanics. Creativity and variability in approach has always been a big draw of stealth games, with the style of gameplay usually mixing well with the immersive sim - a genre that excels in offering broad player freedom. 

What happens, then, when the stealth genre is stripped back to its core, in order to offer something succinct and of a simpler nature? Seldom a convention we see in the genre, this is exactly what El Hijo is - a spaghetti western style story following a nameless young boy and his quest to reunite with his mother. The story is pretty bare bones and noticeably dearth in content, being delivered through short, loosely animated cutscenes without any spoken dialogue. None of it is anything to write home about, but it does get the job done in a way of offering linkage and continuity between levels. Mother and son are separated at the start of the game, and the player will control both characters throughout the story. The vast majority of the story, though, will focus on the boy’s journey.

El Hijo: A Wild West Tale, PC, Review, Gameplay, Screenshots, Climbing boy

The game has the player traverse a wide variety of locals from an isometric, top down perspective featuring charmingly cel-shaded graphics. It’s a very pretty game, with a rather spectacular minimalist art direction and excellent use of the chosen colour pallet. Everything from the way the player character mischievously sneaks about, to the caricature like agitation displayed by the monks and bandits when they fail to catch you, is finely articulated, with the game packing in a lot of character and detail into its simplistic design. Levels are nicely structured and on the whole, very well designed, with art style, pacing and gameplay mechanics gelling together well with no unnecessary fluff. Gameplay wise, El Hijo clings to a selection of age-old stealth mechanics; hiding behind curtains, in piles of clothes, crouching underneath tables, sticking to the shadows and using rocks to distract enemies from the bread and butter of the game's stealth, and despite it not offering anything new, what is does feels well refined for the most part. 

There are a few issues with the controls every now and then, however. Sometimes it’s unclear where a throwable object will actually land when you use it, making for some minor frustration every now and then, and the fact that you need to come to a complete stop before crouching can result in some annoying detections. There is a decent number of gadgets to use including smoke bombs, fireworks that stun enemies and an oversized sombrero you can hide in, but it does take a while for the player to acquire the full arsenal. It’s only really in the latter half of the game that the player gains the potential to use everything, and it’s in linking together item usage that presents some of the more satisfying evasions. As such, many of the earlier areas feel a little simple, and it would have been nice to have access to all the items sooner.

There are several different enemy types in the game, but silently assassinate them Agent 47 style you will not. El Hijo’s gameplay revolves solely around defensive strategy. Within a level there are five or six main stealth puzzles to work through, whereby the player must sneak past and outwit a cast of monks, bandits, or both. Outwit feels a little strong a word as the AI is simplistic at best. There are scenarios in which you can outrun the AI by simply sprinting into a shadowed area or around a corner, entirely befuddling the enemy as if you’ve disappeared into thin air. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the intelligence of the AI works within the confines of the game design for the most part, but there are also occasions where the AI breaks down a little on account of their rudimentary programming. 

Sometimes an enemy would remain in state of chase but would be blocked by geometry, and sometimes a well-timed dash could get you through a section irrespective of the carefully laid out, sneaky approach. These occasions are few and far between, though, and across the board the stealth puzzles and enemy movement patterns are well thought out and offer a decent challenge. The player can zoom out and survey the movement patterns and line of sight of multiple enemies with ease, and especially in the later game, the tactics require more from the player than just staying in the dark and out of sight.

El Hijo: A Wild West Tale, PC, Review, Gameplay, Screenshots, Train run

Push and pull puzzles are worked into the game fairly early on, and these culminate in some nicely designed sections that require the manoeuvring of minecarts on a track, or moving wheeled ladders about to progress vertically and avoid being seen. Recruiting other kids to help move something in place by freeing them with the slingshot adds another dimension, and there are several sections requiring the riding of a minecart around a treacherous track without being seen. These segments of the game offer a well implemented change of pace. The checkpoint system is also well conceived. It’s always clear where a checkpoint is thanks to a bundle of glowing blue particles, and they’re frequent enough that getting caught is a non-issue. There are no lives in the game, making experimentation easy and non-consequential, even if there isn’t much room for choice of approach given the linearity of the puzzles. 

The difficulty curve is nicely facilitated and despite the relatively simple mechanics, things can get pretty tricky at times. This goes for both evaluating enemy movement patterns as well as figuring out the push and pull puzzles; there’s never anything too frustrating for the most part and each level is well balanced. The experience is also lengthier than is usual for this style of game, with 30 chapters spanning a wide range of unique environments and challenges, from escaping a monastery to a rescue mission on a moving train. Throughout the game’s many levels you’ll also find other children, and talking to them increases their ‘morale’, often resulting in a resupply of one of your items. Finding these kids usually requires going off the beaten path, and they’re a crucial element to how the levels are designed.

When you start to analyse them, El Hijo’s environments are pretty complex. There’s one route to the end of the level, but intertwined are a host of extra stealth puzzles with the reward of freeing a child or gaining items. There are usually several kids to find in each level each accompanied by a stealth sequence to reach them, so even after you’ve finished the game there’s a lot of replayability available.

El Hijo: A Wild West Tale, PC, Review, Gameplay, Screenshots, Underground stealth

In spite of a couple of control and AI issues, El Hijo is a fulfilling love letter to the stealth genre. It doesn’t provide anything in the way of innovation and it’s simplicity does get the better of it sometimes, but it does, for the most part, manage to capture the inherent thrill stealth games are known for. Where the usual convention for the genre entails a complex and multi-layered approach, El Hijo excels at boiling down stealth's gratifying core mechanics into an enjoyable pick up and play, with a collection of relatively simple, but clever levels. 

Linden Garcia
Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): HandyGames
Developer(s): Honig Studios, Quantumfrog
Genres: El Hijo: A Wild West Tale
Themes: Spaghetti-Western
Release Date: 2020-12-03

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